The United States Forestry Service is a sub agency to the U.S. department of Agriculture and is the chief administrator of 154 national forests and 20 national grasslands totaling 193 million acres of land. Recently, the Forestry Service has been highlighted by the President in regard to stabilizing wildfires and curbing the effects of climate change. Let’s take a deeper look.
The science of climate change is undeniable and has been confirmed time and time again by various agencies, non-profits and governments across the world. But in order to have an effective and stimulating conversation I want to clarify a few things so that we may all be on the same page. First, yes, the climate and weather has always been changing… Across millions of years there have been ice ages and up to as many as 4 mass extinction events. However, this highlights the main point of climate activists that it is the rate at which our climate is changing that is the problem. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) our climate changed at an average of 0.07 degrees Celsius from 1880 to 1981. However according to climate.gov, NOAA found that since 1981 the climate has been warming at an average of 0.18 degrees Celsius, nearly twice as much as the past 200 years. It is primarily the rate of climate changes that causes a cascade of events that include drought and worsening wildfires. While there are many intricacies and fine points to the multifactorial problem of climate change, here I would like to focus on our national and world forests, aptly named “the lungs of the earth”.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, since 1990 the worldwide forest acreage has decreased by over 80 million hectares which is roughly 197.6 million acres. While the rate of deforestation fell during 2015 to 2020 down from 16% in the 1990’s to 10% in 2020, we are already seeing the effects on our daily lives as we take away the earths ability to breath, reduce carbon and maintain its water cycles through rain and moisture in the air. In an article for Science Daily, Anna Trugman an ecologist for UC Santa Barbara notes the compounding effects of droughts that, “can be really stressful on forests and trees”. In addition to rain cycles and carbon reduction, rain forests are home to 80% of the world’s species. This biodiversity provides vital life balances to the natural world that just now we are realizing have impacts on the human world.
According to an article in The Independent, in a recent speech President Trump called for “getting rid of the leaves”, during a speech to a campaign rally in Pennsylvania, as a means to prevent worsening forest fires. While this suggestion was touted by many as a drastic oversimplification of the problem, there is some indication that worsening drought and debris from years past has played a role in the recent fire burden. Certainly, forest management plays a role in the health of our forests through land management strategies long practiced by both the forestry service and farmers alike. Yana Valavhovic a forest advisor with the University of California’s Cooperative Extension program said in an article to the Washington Post, “His general sentiment is correct… We need to manage the fuels” (Selk, 2018). Valavhovic goes on to say that there is much more that goes into fuel management and that “A rake is not practical”. However, as Monica Turner, a fire ecologist at the University of Wisconsin was quoted saying in the Washington Post, “Extreme climate change has arrived in America and it burns”. What Mrs. Turner and many other ecologists are saying is that we are nearing a point of no return, as the world is heated there are more and more fires which release carbon into the atmosphere and causes even more warming. This is in fact a fiery death spiral. This year in 2020, 3.2 million acres of California have burned compared to just the 1.9 million seen in 2018, which was higher than the acreage burned in 2017, a trend that predicts worsening conditions going forward.
While this outlook may seem bleak, there are many efforts to reforest our lands. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has plans to restore 350 million hectares of degraded land by 2030. Allowing the forests once again to thrive and rehydrate the world while simultaneously draining the atmosphere of carbon may be one of our best chances at curbing the effects of climate change. Forests, especially rain forests provide moisture that is absorbed in the air and can influence rain seasons and total rainfall as a whole. The lack of this type of hydration is exactly what the dry vegetation in California and other spots around the world are lacking resulting in the base of dry tinder vegetation noted by the President. Additionally, to the climate impact reforestation may have, there can be long lasting and prosperous economic effects of reforesting the world. According to the IUCN almost 25% of the world’s population rely on forests for their livelihoods. Additionally, $75-$100 billion worth of goods and services are produced annually from forests.
Ironically as President Trump touts land management practices as the key to fire prevention and further damage, his 2020 budget for the US Forestry Service called for a reduction of 1 billion dollars from the previous year, with specific cuts to wildfire suppression. Additionally, this proposed budget indicates an overall 15% decrease in the funding for the Department of Agriculture as a whole. Many state and federal representatives feel that without proper funding, specific forest management strategies will no longer be possible to enact. Simply put, without the lungs of our earth, the drastic impact of climate change will only continue to worsen. It is undeniable at this point in time that we must take action to prevent further deforestation and in fact restore the land’s biodiversity and balance to the natural world, which I would argue, is our world, the human world, as well.
The Political Muse